Well that came out of nowhere: Valley wakes up to wind-ravaged cities with sprawling damage

McAllen mayor: 'It looks like a hurricane. We expect that it’s going to take us about a week to pick up all the brush … it’s all over the place.'

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BY ERIKA DE LOS REYES AND MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ | STAFF WRITERS

Refueling stations and the canopy at an Exxon Stripes convenience store at North 23rd Street and Lark Avenue lie in ruins after an overnight storm on Saturday, April 29, 2023. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

A thunderstorm that ripped through the Rio Grande Valley overnight Friday and into early Saturday morning has left tens of thousands without power with no immediate relief in sight for at least 24 to 48 hours, and caused havoc in city streets, residential and business property as a deluge of rain and hail drenched the region, and nearly 80 miles per hour winds uprooted trees, power lines and light poles and ripped roofs and awnings from structures.

The scene in some Valley cities appeared not unlike the aftermath of a hurricane.

Valley residents were posting videos across social media Saturday, with one video showing harsh winds dragging fences to the ground and lightning lighting up the night sky.

In portions of McAllen, light poles snapped and fell with glass shattered on the ground, metal awnings and other debris were seen wrapped around structures after being ripped apart while trees were uprooted and torn apart.

According to meteorologist David Reese of the National Weather Service in Brownsville, the McAllen area recorded winds during the height of the storm at about 74 mph, which Reese said preceded the power outages and was the highest wind gust reported in the region.

Reese also added that as of 5 a.m., which was around the time the storm had passed the areas between Port Isabel, Laguna Vista and Harlingen, winds of about 60 to 62 mph were recorded while Brownsville recorded winds of about 61 mph.

Throughout the storm the Valley saw about 1 to 3 inches of rain overall.

There were about 2.5 to nearly 3 inches of rain on the west and north side of Brownsville, an inch of rain in Harlingen and about 1.5 to 2 inches of rain in Hidalgo County.

Heavy rains and harsh winds weren’t the only factors causing damage, however. According to Reese, the Upper Valley also reported hail around 11 p.m. to about 12:30 a.m. mainly in the Zapata to La Joya area along U.S. Highway 83.

“Most of the hail was reported in the Upper Valley … generally between a quarter to golf-ball sized, so between 1 to 1.75 inches,” Reese said.

Around 9 a.m. Saturday, fellow NWS meteorologist Barry Goldsmith was out with a team surveying the area in McAllen and was expected to move toward Pharr, San Juan, Alamo and Donna to calculate what the highest wind speeds were in those areas.

Goldsmith explained that they have received calls about major damage in the Southwest Cameron County area from Santa Maria to Los Indios.

More information was expected to be available on the NWS website by the end of the day Saturday.

An electric crew works on a downed utility pole in the 3800 block of North McColl in McAllen on Saturday, April 29, 2023. (Monitor Photo)

POWER OUTAGES

Officials say the strong winds were mainly to blame for the power outages seen in the Valley, with AEP Texas and Magic Valley Electric Cooperative reporting more than 150,000 and more than 50,000 customers without power, respectively, as a result of the storm.

As of 6 p.m. Saturday, AEP Texas said in a news release that outages decreased from 156,000 to 48,000.

Their power restoration times, however, could be as late as Monday evening in some cities.

Here is AEP Texas’ estimation for power restoration by city:

>> Edinburg, Monday at noon

>> Harlingen, Saturday at 9 p.m.

>> McAllen, Monday at noon

>> Mission, Monday at noon

>> Pharr, Monday at noon

>> Port Isabel, Saturday at 11:30 p.m.

>> Rio Grande City, Saturday at 10 p.m.

>> San Benito, Saturday at 10 p.m.

>> Weslaco, Sunday at 10 p.m.

“Please remember that these are (projections) that could change as restoration efforts continue,” AEP Texas stressed in its release.

Residents should avoid any downed power lines or electrical equipment.

“AEP Texas crews and business partners from nearby districts have been called in to aid in the restoration,” AEP Texas added. “Other utilities are being contacted through the company’s mutual assistance program.”

Report an outage to AEP Texas here.

Magic Valley Electric Cooperative also reported around 27,932 power outages as of noon Saturday, with 26,355 of them concentrated in the Hidalgo County area, and 1,539 in Cameron County.

Power outages can be reported to MVEC here.

The Brownsville Public Utilities Board reported as many as 12,000 customers without power in Brownsville and the surrounding area, a number which BPUB later reported fell to around 685 “pending restoration” as of 2 p.m. Saturday.

Service interruptions can be reported to BPUB here.

A fuel dispenser lies destroyed at an Exxon Stripes convenience store in north McAllen after strong winds knocked over the canopy above the refueling area on Saturday, April 29, 2023. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

DAMAGE REPORTS

With the storm causing damage throughout the Valley, city officials in McAllen are asking residents to avoid driving down McAllen streets due to uprooted trees, fallen power lines and other debris on the streets.

According to McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos, crews including public works, the police and fire departments have been working on clearing up the roads.

“It looks like a hurricane,” Villalobos said, adding that the city plans to issue a disaster declaration. “We expect that it’s going to take us about a week to pick up all the brush … it’s all over the place.”

City officials, however, are asking those who need to travel to do so with caution and patience due to many street intersections not having functioning traffic lights at the moment. In the meantime, the intersections will work as four-way stops.

The Texas Department of Transportation announced that the southbound U.S. Highway 281 and Interstate 69C frontage road, between Ferguson and State Highway 495 and the Westbound U.S. Expressway 83 and Interstate 2 frontage road are currently closed until further notice due to weather.

In Edinburg, the city urged residents Saturday morning to heed caution when traveling through the city where traffic signals are damaged. The damaged signals are located at Jackson and Sprague, Sugar and Trenton, and Sugar and Sprague.

The Monitor also sustained damage in the parking area with light poles that crashed onto the ground and a portable barn that was flipped upside down.

Mission residents saw what may be some of the most significant damage in the Valley, in some cases homes’ roofs were torn off and a large trampoline was seen thrown in the middle of one street.

An Exxon’s gas pumps and roof also collapsed onto a street near Lark and 23rd Street in Mission, blocking nearly the entire road.

Brownsville Engineering and Public Works Director Doroteo Garcia Jr. said as much as 3.5 inches of rain fell in the city between a 30- and 60-minute period with flash flooding observed throughout.

Garcia did say that the flooding quickly subsided.

“Fortunately the drains were clear so within an hour after the rain stopped the flooding cleared,” he said. “There were several trees and debris blocking roadways, but most of the trees on major roadways were cleared last night and a lot of local streets were cleared this morning around 11 a.m.”

The public works director said Brownsville did see what he described as major power lines being down by Boca Chica Boulevard between Security Drive and International Boulevard, and on Southmost Road between 28th and 30th streets.

FORECAST

On the bright side, it seems like the worst is over.

According to Reese, over the weekend the Valley will see clear, sunny skies, humidity and a north to northwest breeze at about 20 to 30 miles per hour causing temperatures to reach a low to mid 50s on Saturday.

On Sunday, however, winds will be coming from the south with temperatures around mid to upper 80s.